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FAIRY TALE 'EDWARD SCISSORHANDS' IS A MAGICAL, ENCHANTING FABLE ABOUT THE FATE OF ODDNESS

ONCE UPON a time, a mad inventor created a boy. Unfortunately, the old man died before he could give his creature hands so the boy had scissors at the end of his arms -- huge daggerlike blades which he could manipulate with eerie precision. So he lived alone in a dark, gothic castle on a hill which he decorated with hedges sculptured to a point Louis XIV might have envied.

And then one day, the Avon Lady came driving up the long driveway in a canary-yellow Plymouth Duster . . .

It's a tale told by a very old lady to a tiny little girl in a very big bed -- a very funny fairy tale and, when it's all over, a magical and enchanting fable about the fate of oddness in the world and the lot of the artist.

Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" is a lovely and unique movie, the kind of movie that can happen only when its creator has previously made such unexpected commercial blockbusters as "Beetlejuice" and "Batman."

Bless the movie he chose to make. It is part "Frankenstein," part "E.T." and part "Pinocchio," with a sweetness and infantile seduction all its own.

If it weren't for Burton, David Lynch and John Waters -- the post-Spielbergian Three Musketeers of cinematic weirdness -- most current American films would be so commercially calculated and vehemently ordinary that there would be very few reasons to get excited about going to the movies. Most of the time, you can delight in the oddness of the threesome as much if not more than you can in their achievement.

"Edward Scissorhands" is another matter entirely. It is an achievement, not an anthology of brilliant ideas waiting for an achievement. It is the outrageously juvenile fantasy that Lynch never quite got around to (mostly because he never had Burton's kind of box office in his pocket). The half-boy, half-rocket Lynch wanted to make for years was called "Ronnie Rocket" and by now it has undoubtedly been abandoned.

It is a given that almost all American filmmaking at the end of this century is adolescent. But if Lynch and Waters seem to have been arrested in the state of early adolescence (the time of role insecurity, moral defiance and violent fantasy), Burton seems arrested a few years earlier in a sweet, mischievous pre-sexual groping for identity.

The Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest) takes Edward Scissorhands back down with her to her suburban neighborhood. It's a gossip-ridden hallucinatory place where nearly identical houses are individuated by being painted in pastel candy colors -- purples, pinks, yellows and powder blues.

When "Edward Scissorhands" is about the weird young prodigy in suburbia, it is very funny somewhat in the way "Being There" was funny (only edgier -- much edgier).

Soon the Avon Lady's neighbors are discovering Edward's unique talents -- the way he can turn anyone's hedges into dinosaurs and dogs and giant flowers; or the way he can give wildly imaginative haircuts. Before Christmas, he even does some ice sculpting (the mad rain of his ice shavings accounts for the sudden snow).

What I love about this movie is Burton's steadfast love of his satirized suburbanites. The people who adopt Edward (played by Wiest and Alan Arkin) are distinguished by their comic but utterly indefatigable niceness -- their refusal to deviate an inch from the path of kindness and concern for the hopelessly odd boy who has come into their lives.

Even more than that, though, I admire the darkness of the ending. It was the unexpected darkness and Wagnerian gloom that made "Batman" singular. And it's the dark ending that helps make this fable so good.

Johnny Depp plays Edward with deceptive intelligence (the maintenance of ignorant goofiness being one of the harder things to carry off). And, in the second feature for Winona Ryder Day (she also opens today in "Mermaids"), she gets to throw off her weirdness and just play a dewy-eyed and nubile teen-ager.

MOVIE
Edward Scissorhands

Rating: ****
Tim Burton's suburban fable about a boy with scissors for hands.

Rated PG-13, at the Market Arcade, Thruway, McKinley Mall, Maple Ridge and Summit Mall theaters.

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